Julien Boucher back from Japan
I'm writing these last lines comfortably sitting in my office. We have been back from Japan since Monday night late but I haven't found the courage to do it before now. With the bus ride to Narita, the wait in different airports and the flight times, our trip was around 28 hours in total. But I have to admit that we are glad to be home and rediscover the big open spaces of our beautiful country.
The last matches we watched lived up to our expectations. The highlight of these last 2 days was the performance of the Japanese team leading up to their bronze medal performance. Japan beat the USA in 5 thrilling sets after nearly beating Brazil by the same score the night before. Undoubtedly the Cinderella team of this tournament, Japan displayed poise and flawless technical execution throughout. The team was led by its 30 year-old, 1m59 (no, that's not a mistake) setter, Takeshita, who was MVP in 2006 despite Japan finishing in 6th place. The USA just wasn't able to maintain the pressure and its tactical execution wasn't enough to shake Japan's confidence or its 12000 screaming fans. We also must add to this equation the too many errors committed by the USA's top guns, Logan Tom and Destinee Hooker.
For the 7th time of its history, Russia captured the gold medal by beating Brazil 3 sets to 2, in a match that at times looked more like a men's volleyball match. Ekaterina Gamova was their leader throughout and was, deservingly so, named the tournament MVP. Russia had crushed the USA the semis, but not before losing a game by the score of 25-13 !
Three of the other 4 finals ended with a 3-0 score. Only Germany dropped a set to Serbia on its way to finishing 7th, its best result ever. We must also note Cuba's 3-0 loss to the Netherlands to conclude a very disappointing tournament and a 12th place finish.
As far as our team is concerned, the outlook is sensibly the same as the men's team was after Italy: we are a notch behind the top teams and a lot of work remains to be done short and long term to prepare next year's Olympic qualification as well as the one for 2016. The small consolation is that besides Cuba, 2 other Norceca teams had very shaky performances in this Championship. Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic (who we should have beaten on the last day) both finished 17th.
Here is what's in store in the upcoming months for our players. 6 of them have already joined their pro team: Tammy Mahon (AO Panathinaikos in Greece), Tiffany Dodds (Ageo Medics in Japan), Sarah Pavan (Korea Expressway), Tonya Mokelki and Marissa Filed (SV Sinsheim in Germany) and Carla Bradstock (Rabita Baku in Azerbaijan). If they don’t find a pro team, Julie Young, Tasha Holness and Brittney Page will back in Winnipeg in January and will join Nadine Alphonse, Claire Hanna, Beth Clark, Marie-Pier Murray-Méthot and Kelci French. Janie Guimond will remain in Montreal until the spring while Lauren O'Reilly (TWU), Kyla Richey and Jenn Hinze (UBC) have already joined their CIS team.
One note of interest before I sign off: Lupo was the big winner of our playoff pool, but my superb performance on the last day (I picked 5 winners out of 6) enabled me be to squeak ahead of Scott for third place and a bronze medal of my own.
Best wishes for a great 2010-2011 season.
The Tokyo metropolitan area counts more than 30 million people, about a quarter of the total population of Japan. The city itself, with 23 wards, has around 10 million inhabitants. No wonder Tokyo is one of the most animated cities in the world. And probably one of the most illuminated as well. We have been here since Monday afternoon. We traveled from Nagoya on the Bullitt train again and arrived at Tokyo station, apparently the busiest train station on the planet (I would tend to agree). We are staying at the Keio Plaza Hotel, in the heart of the Shinjuku ward, which is as frantic as the area that surrounds it.
Volleyball wise, the second round is now over and the cards are dealt. We now know who will battle for every position. The medal round will see the USA play Russia, while Brazil will have to be wary of a surprising Japanese team.
In terms of quality of play, we are still a bit disappointed. Here, in Tokyo, where we watched the last 2 days of competition, high-quality matches are few and far between: 6 matches with a 3-0 score out of 8. In total, close to 50% of all matches played end up 3-0 and only 2 matches out of 3-2 went the distance of 5 sets. And (surprisingly) still this stat of close to 25% of all games played ending with a score of 25-15 or less.
The match between Poland and Turkey was very good however, as well as the match opposing Russia and Japan, with many exciting rallies, and Japan taking a set off of the powerful Russians. In fact, all of Japan's matches are quite the spectacle. The organizers really have gone all out. They have even added a 10-minute break between the second and third sets to allow for mini-shows to entertain the crowd. I'll let you guess which set Japan won against Russia!
In the other pool, we heard that the match Brazil-USA was quite good. The other match of interest in that pool was the clash between Italy and Cuba, which took place after the USA-Brazil match. With the USA losing, the Italians could still finish in second place on points, but only by beating Cuba by more than 19 in total. After the 1st set ended 25-16, the Italians could still dream of a semi-final berth. But as the second game got close towards the end, we were told that Italy just gave up in order not to get a win with ONLY a 2 point differential. Played out against them as Cuba ended winning the match 3-2 with the 5th going to 24-22.
Last point of interest – but not least – is that our playoff pool took an unexpected turn yesterday. Lupo is now ahead with 35 points, tied with Scott (after all, THEY are the coaches, right?). Janek follows them with 34 points and I am now in last place with 31. But I have a few aces up my sleeve for the medal round !!!
We've been in Nagoya for 2 days now. Thursday night, our transfer from Osaka went very smoothly and only took 45 minutes by Bullitt train. Very impressive. We had a whole day off on Friday – what a concept – and Janek Matthes, Lupo's friend and Datavolley scout in Tokyo since the beginning of the tournament joined us here. The 4 of us will be watching the rest of the tournament together.
Yesterday was the start of the second round. In Tokyo, Russia, Japan, Poland, Turkey, Korea, Serbia, China and Peru are in pool E. Here in Nagoya, The USA, Brazil, Holland, Germany, Italy, Cuba, Czech Republic and Thailand are in pool F. first-day matches were very ordinary and offered a lot of up-and-down performances. Only the USA showed consistency against the Czech Republic. Cuba was very disappointing, losing 3-1 to a tall but quite slow Dutch team. Brazil just crushed Thailand and Italy beat Germany and totally dominated them in the last 2 games.
For statistics fans, here are a few interesting numbers from the first round.
Out of all the games played in the first round, 26% ended with a score of 25-15 or less. This number is obviously related to the difference in level between the top 4 teams in each pool and the rest but there are a few exceptions. Like Italy, who lost 25-7 to Brazil, or like Russia losing one set to Turkey 25-11. One would think that this would only apply in the first round. Well the very first game played here yesterday saw Cuba losing to Holland 25-12. In fact, 5 games ended with a score lower than 15 yesterday in Pool F and 4 in pool E. For an unexplained reason, a lot of teams have been inconsistent in this tournament so far.
Hitting efficiency (Thanks to Chris Green for compiling these stats)
Out of the 24 teams who played the first round, all the ones who have a hitting efficiency of 21% or higher qualified. Hitting efficiency is calculated by subtracting attack errors (balls out, blocked, etc.) from kills and divided that result by total attempts. The only exception is Croatia (25%), who finished tied for 3rd in their pool with Cuba and Thailand but ended up being eliminated on points. Canada ranks 20th with 18,5% hitting efficiency, but ranks 11th in terms of hitting errors with 74 in 5 matches.
Lupo, Janek, Scott and I started a playoff pool yesterday. We take our picks for the winner and the score of each match. We get 3 points for picking the right team and the right score, and 1 point for only the right team. After the 1st day, I lead with 8 points, Scott has 7, Lupo has 6 and Janek has 4. To be continued.
Day #13 – November 3rd – Canada-Dominican Republic
A few experts were calling our match the "battle of Norceca". The Dominican Republic hadn't won a match yet and was looking for redemption against us.
We came so close to winning the second set after dominating the first one. But our inability to close out games came back to haunt us – we had 2 chances at game point – and restored the Dominicans' confidence at the same time. To think that they had played a very ordinary match up to that point. We were not able to recover and in the end the score was 1-3: 25-21, 26-28, 11-25, and 20-25.
It is tough to win when you have a hard time scoring from your serve receive phase. Not a lot of direct faults – 12 in 4 games – but a lack of "punch" helping the Dominicans in their transition game. It is disappointing to go back home with regrets but we also take back a valuable experience, which will undoubtedly serve our young group in the upcoming months.
Most of the girls are flying back this afternoon but Lupo, Scott and I are staying behind to watch the rest of the tournament. We leave tonight for Nagoya and we will move to Tokyo on the 8th of November,
This is my last official report but I'll try to stay and touch and report some facts and figures before we go back to Canada.
Click here to see a video report from Ken Wiebe
Day #12 – November 2nd – Canada-Turkey (Day 11 was a day off)
Playing a match at 1:30 in the afternoon is kind of strange for a World Championship. The Osaka Central Gymnasium felt more like Lipsett hall when we got there. Hardly anyone in the stands and, oddly enough, not a lot of crewmembers either.
Didn't seem to bother our girls though, as we just played our best match of the tournament so far. Or, should I say, our best half-match. We controlled the first 2 games from start to finish and won 25-19, 25-20. A good execution, specifically on serving, enabled us to put a lot of pressure on our opponents. We aced them 7 times in the match, all in the first 2 games. Ironically, we also controlled the third game, as we completely lost our marks and committed 12 errors. The final score was 14-25.
The Turkish coach took a time out at 6-3 for us in the fourth game and then the lights went out on our execution game. A few minutes later, at the second technical time-out, Turkey was up 16-9. We never recovered. 2 of their subs hurt us quite a bit. And at this level, any loss of focus is suicide. The last 2 games scores were 17-25 and 8-15.
Small consolation, we are improving match after match. Tomorrow, we have a date with the Dominican Republic, for 5th place in our pool and for pride. The match is at 1pm!
Day #10 – October 31 – Canada-Russia
Please click here for Ken Wiebe's video report
13-25, 16-25, 21-25. The final score is a good indication of last night's match. Against a team like Russia, defending World champion, all errors are costly and all point opportunities not taken are converted into points for the opponent.
We started the match respecting our opponent too much (Lupo's words in the press conference). But then, as the match went on, we were able to increase our level of play and make it relatively close in the third set. But that was too little, too late.
Today is a well-deserved day off. I'll be back after our match against Turkey tomorrow night.
Day #9 – October 30 – Canada-China
A former Dutch coach, Mr. Peter Murphy, whom I've known for many years, came to see me after the match tonight and said: "If your team could play 20-25 matches a year against teams at this level, you'd be OK". So even with a much better effort tonight we still fell short 3-0: 16-25, 19-25, 10-25.
We blocked and defended much better than yesterday and played a much more dynamic game. But China has too many weapons and has too much experience. We weren't able to sustain the little pressure we put on them at times and we committed too many errors at crucial times against a team of that caliber. Our best scorer was Tiffany Dodds with 8 kills and 3 stuff blocks, with Sarah Pavan adding 9 points.
The mood is better than yesterday though, as the girls feel they accomplished at least one of the goals: elevate their level of play.
We play Russia tomorrow (at 3:30 pm, so 2:30 am in Eastern Canada). Big test, but more importantly big opportunity to play one of the best teams in the world.
See you tomorrow.
Day #8 – October 29 – Canada-Korea
We're coming back to the hotel with our heads slightly down. We just lost 3-0 to Korea: 19-25, 19-25 and 14-25. Lupo and Scott had done their homework well: Korea is not a great team and was well within our reach. We just couldn't grab the chance that was offered to us. It's hard to win volleyball matches if you score only a handful of points off your serving phase. We had a lot of difficulty converting our dug balls into points. And since our blocking wasn't very efficient, our back row defenders had a hard time compensating. The result: 2 stuff blocks for the whole match and very balls deflected.
To our defense, the Koreans were very effective offense-wise and their 2-player front row combinations put a lot of pressure on our blockers. Their right side player – whom we hadn't seen on any of the videos we had watched – played out of her mind (18 kills and 1 ace), leaving in her shadow their usual choice hitter, #10, Kim (one of the 3 Kim on the team!).
On our side, Sarah Pavan led the team with 14 kills and 1 stuff block while Tiffany Dodds added 7 kills.
Tomorrow, China will be waiting for us. They just lost to a very surprising Turkish team 3-1. No doubt they will be hungry and we have our work cut off for us. A very good opportunity, however, to turn things around and show what we are made of.
Please click here to see a video report done by Ken Wiebe from the Winnipeg Sun
Good night (or good day) and see you tomorrow.
Day #7 – October 28
The last pre-tournament day is coming to an end. The countdown has started. In 18 hours we play Korea. We actually just finished the video session, which was made up of 2 parts. The first one saw 2 players report on our opponent and their country and talk about its history, its culture, etc… Tiffany and Julie did a great job. As this was the very first session of the tournament, Tammy and Carla also had to report on the history of the World Championship since its inception. For the second part, Lupo presented a Data volley montage about the Koreans' individual hitting tendencies.
The morning training session was very good. One half hour on the warm-up court and 1 hour on the competition court. The girls look ready and the moral is at its peak.
The match will start at 4:15pm local time which is 3:15 am in Eastern Canada.
Day #6 – October 27
We are finally in Osaka. We arrived at the Sheraton Miyako hotel last night around 8:15, after a 3-hour bus ride from Ageo to Narita, a 1½ hour flight from Narita to Osaka and yet another bus ride from the airport to our hotel. Needless to say everything was ready when we got here: room keys, evening meal, schedule for the next 6 days, and so on… Japanese efficiency is almost scary. Even the Preliminary inquiry (individual administrative meeting with each team) went very smoothly and only took 20 minutes. Probably a new record!
The atmosphere is already different here. The girls are excited at the idea of starting the competition. The first person I saw when we got off the bus was none other than Ekaterina Gamova, the 2m02 Russian outside hitter signing autographs in the hotel lobby.
This morning (it is 6 am on the 28th here right now), training for an hour and a half on the competition court, Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium.
Day #5 – October 26 – Match Ageo Medics-Canada
The name of the town is Ageo. This is where we are staying since last night. Ageo is a suburb located 15 kilometers Northwest of Tokyo. The name of the club is Ageo Medics. The owner is the Ageo General Hospital. It is the club who takes care of us while we're here and who arranged our trip back from Tokyo last night after the match against Poland. Its top team, against which we played tonight, plays in the V. Challenge League, the equivalent of the second division here in Japan. Their coach is Toshiaki Yoshida, aka Toshi, former USA Women's team Head coach between 200 and 2004. It is also the team for whom Tiffany Dodds will play this coming season.
The match we just played leaves a sour taste in our mouths. We played 2 good sets, with our starters on the court, against a 2nd rate team. We just couldn't take charge of the match from start to finish and we are still too inconsistent in our 1st contacts: serving, serve receiving and blocking. We took this training match as … a training match (Lupo's words). Final score: 2-3 (20-25, 25-18, 25-19, 19-25 et 16-25).
This match represents the end of our preparation for the World Championships. We leave for Osaka tomorrow afternoon. Let the show begin!
Day #4 – October 25 – Match Poland-Canada
Today was a long day, starting with 1-hour training session at Budo University in the morning. Departure for Tokyo in the afternoon, and a planned 2-hour bus trip, which actually took 3 and ½ hours, because of - you guessed it – heavy traffic within the extra-terrestrial freeway system of the Capital city. There is no rush hour here, more like rush day where traffic jams are present 24 hours a day. The highlight of the trip was undoubtedly the amazing light set-up at Tokyo Disneyland.
We played the match at Ajinomoto National Training Center. Ajinomoto is the company that sponsors the Japanese Olympic Committee, which is also housed in the state-of-the-art building, inaugurated in January 2008. The gym is made up of 2 volleyball courts side by side with no other lines whatsoever on the permanent Taraflex floor. This is where the Japanese volleyball teams train whenever they are together. One interesting feature about the gym is an integrated video system with 4 different cameras: 1 on each end of the courts, 1 on the wall to get a better view of all the net actions and 1 on the ceiling for an aerial view. I didn't see it, but I'm guessing that each one is connected to a central system where it is possible to view the same action from 4 different angles.
The match itself is a little disappointing. We are dominated in the first 3 games in pretty much all aspects. We lose 16-25, 18-25, and 13-25. Then the 2 coaches decide to use a few non-starters and we are able to win the fourth set 25-20. The 5th game is relatively close but we finally lose 22-25. Poland is a good team who plays a classic, simple game but a very efficient, clean one. Just like the night before against Budo, we have to learn from our mistakes and be able to increase our level of play a notch.
After the match, back on the bus for a 45-minute ride to Ageo City, where we will be staying until our departure for Osaka on Wednesday. Quick hotel check-in and finally bedtime at 1 am.
Day #3 – October 24
The sun sets and rises early in Japan at this time of year. Nevertheless, it is still dark outside: 5 o'clock in the morning and last night was short but pretty refreshing.
After a 2-hour morning low-impact training session – serve and serve receive only – we played the University Men's team last night. Although we did a lot of good things, we were unable to keep up with our opponents' speed and power. All their players are relatively short in volleyball standards – 1m80 for most of them – but very good technically (does that surprise you?) and especially very quick. We lost all 5 games: 21-25, 17-25, 14-25, 13-25, 21-25. Good way, however, to prepare for our matches against our Asian opponents Korea and China.
Lupo, Scott, David, Ben and I went for supper at the coach's house after the match, M. Tokunaga. Nice evening spent around a huge coffee table used for the occasion as a dining room table. 30 centimeters in height, we were all sitting around it Japanese style with our legs crossed. My knees still hurt! Typical Japanese meal with sushi for appetizers and different kinds of meat and vegetables grilled on an electric hot plate placed in the middle of the table as the main meal. Very nice… To top it all off, Mr. Tokunaga, his wife and their 2 sons had prepared presents for us at the end of the meal. Individual bags containing a few Japanese writing paper items. Thank God we had had the presence of mind to bring a few gifts of our own.
Today, light training session in the morning and then trip to Tokyo where we will play Poland tonight. We say goodbye to the IBU as we are going to stay in a hotel in Tokyo for the next 2 nights.
Day #2 – October 23
3 in the morning on October 24. I couldn't sleep so I got up to write these few lines. Looks like my adjustment to this time zone will be a bit more painful than the one in Italy.
Saturday was a good day, pretty similar to our any of our team's training days. Practice from 9 to 12: 2 hours in the gym – with emphasis on ball control – as well as a 1-hour weight training session to conclude. Then a 2nd training session, from 4 to 7, this one somewhat more dynamic, focused on speed and team play.
The same scenario is waiting for us tomorrow (well, in a few hours, really). With one exception: our staff has been invited for supper at the University coach's house. He has been very accommodating up to now. He was at the airport to meet us, along with one of his players, who is serving as our interpreter. We found out pretty quickly that he doesn't speak much English. We have to be very inventive with our sign language! On the other hand, he is very devoted. He is with us for all our meals and our training sessions with 5 of his teammates. These 6 guys are probably the best ball shaggers I have ever seen.
Day #1 – October 21-22
As your day is probably just starting, ours is almost over (Japan is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Canada). We arrived safe and sound in Japan, with our hosts waiting for us as planned. After a 2-hour bus ride, we finally arrived at our temporary home, Budo University. We trained for 1 hour upon arrival and had supper just after practice.
Some of us are trying really hard not to go to bed too early. Everyone is pretty beat from the trip. Crossing the International Date Line will do that to you…
International Budo University is a private university in Katsuura, Chiba, Japan, established in 1984. The University is specialized in budo and sports related education.
More on Wikipedia:
Official website of Budo University (site in Japanese, with a small English section):
For the second time in a month, I will be participating in a World Championship as a Team Manager, this time in Japan with our Women's team. I actually wrote these lines on the plane from Vancouver to Tokyo.
The first part of our trip will be spent training at Budo University from the 22nd to the 26th, as well as playing a friendly match against Poland on the 25th. Then, we'll move to Osaka, where we will be playing our first pool of the World Championships, with Korea, China, Russia, Turkey and the Dominican Republic.
I will be sending daily reports back and keep you updated with the major events of our trip.
Click here for a video from the Winnipeg Sun: www.winnipegsun.com/sports/othersports/2010/10/25/15827611.html